What You Need to Know about Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs are created using man-made chemicals in a lab. The newest form of drugs on the market, they are often referred to as “designer” drugs because they are designed to mimic the effects of well-known drugs on the market like marijuana and cocaine.

These drugs are incredibly dangerous and have some of the highest mortality rates for first-time users. Many synthetic drugs are made in foreign countries for dirt cheap prices and then smuggled into the United States. With no manufacturing safety standards, these drugs are not monitored by the FDA.

What You Need to Know about Synthetic Drugs

Despite the fact most are smuggled and unmonitored, they are still sold over the counter in many places like gas stations and head shops. Additionally, as soon as one strand of synthetic drugs it outlawed, it seems two pop up in its place. Currently, there are more than 200 identified synthetic drug compounds and more than 90 different synthetic drug marijuana compounds. This is only counting what we know about (and the numbers increase daily).

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The reality is that these are hazardous man-made chemical formulations designed to create the same effects found in other illicit drugs. Four of the most commonly-used synthetic drugs are:

Synthetic Marijuana

Also referred to as “spice,” this type of synthetic drug is typically marketed as marijuana. However, the drug itself is what is sprayed on a plant material that resembles pot. The drug itself and the effects it causes have absolutely no relation to the Cannabis plant.

Synthetic marijuana contains what is known as “synthetic cannabinoids.” Common names for synthetic marijuana include:

  • Spice
  • Fake weed
  • K2
  • Moon Rocks
  • Yucatán Fire
  • etc….

Synthetic Stimulants

The opposite of synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic stimulants contain what is known as a “synthetic cathinone,” basically…an upper.

Bath Salts

Perhaps the most dangerous of all designer drugs, synthetic stimulants are most often found in brightly colored packages with names intended to attract a young audience like:

  • Cotton Cloud
  • Purple Wave
  • Scarface
  • White Lightning
  • Vanilla Sky
  • etc….

People are ingesting bath salts in every way possible. The most common method is to sprinkle it on marijuana. Other forms of consumption include “bombing” (swallowing it with paper), injecting it, and even taking it rectally.

The allure of bath salts is that they are said to cause a sense of euphoria, increased sociability, and an enhanced sex drive. Abuse of the drug can cause delirium with hallucinations, extreme paranoia, agitation, a breakdown of bodily tissues, and kidney failure. In some cases, intoxication from this type of drug has been fatal.


The more fashionable side of synthetic drugs are usually referred to as “club” drugs and make reference to the drug ecstasy. Also known as MDMA or “Molly,” ecstasy is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. It is a crystalline powder usually sold in capsules, but it can also be snorted. It is extremely popular in the “club” scene for its effects on sexual stimulation as well.

Ecstasy carries with it all of the normal hazards of stimulant abuse, with one key collateral danger. As a synthetic drug, it rarely comes in a pure form. Instead, ecstasy capsules might contain other drugs such as ephedrine, dextromethorphan, ketamin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or even bath salts.

Synthetic LSD

There have been more than one case where youths have died from trying this synthetic drug for the very first time. Responsible for many overdoses, synthetic LSD, better known as “N-Bomb” or “Smiles,” is a phenethylamine (meaning it affects dopamine and serotonin levels). This type of synthetic drug mimics the effects of LSD, causing hallucinations and paranoia.  There are several different types of the drug, but 25I-NBOMe, usually known as “25I,” is the most abused and potent form. Effects of only a minuscule amount can last up to 12 hours or longer.

What You Need to Know about Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic PCP

Methoxamine (also known as MXE) is a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of PCP (phencyclidine) causing delusions, psychoses, and a detached effect. Much like it’s “real” counterpart, the effects of the drug create a form of temporary schizophrenia.

Synthetic Drug Use in California 

Rapidly-changing designer drugs are starting to lose a foothold in California. Senate Bill 139 recently banned the most common form of synthetic drugs on the market “spice,” making it illegal to buy, sell, or carry the drug. The packaging and legality of the products has greatly contributed to a larger percentage of underage users.

Easy Accessibility Means Extreme Popularity

Synthetic drugs are frighteningly easy to obtain, and because of that, they are incredibly popular among young people:

  • The biggest user population of synthetic drugs is 12-to-17-year-olds
  • Synthetic marijuana is the second-most used illicit drug among high school seniors
  • Twice as many 12th-grade boys use synthetic marijuana as 12th-grade girls
  • According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, there were 29,467 synthetic cannabinoid drug reports in 2012. This represents a 1402% increase from 2009.
  • In 2009, there were only 2 synthetic cannabinoids. By 2012, there were over 50. In 2017, there are now over 90.
  • In 2009, there were only 4 synthetic cathinones. By 2012, there were over 30.
  • Currently, there are well over 300 synthetic drugs purposely created and manufactured for the purpose of illicit use.
New Drugs Equal New Dangers

One way in which synthetic drug manufacturers are staying ahead of the game is by coming out with new compounds at exponential rates. It seems as soon as one strain is outlawed, two are developed in its place. Because these designer drugs are—well, designed by man…he can essentially create them at his whim.

Additionally, because they are usually manufactured overseas, synthetic drugs are not known for their adherence to quality control or safety. To circumvent international drug laws banning certain formulations of controlled substances, the manufacturers constantly change the chemical makeup of the drugs, with little to no regard as to the hazards.

  • In 2011, it was reported by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that over 28,000 visits to emergency rooms across the country were tied to the use of synthetic cannabinoids. This is double the number in 2010.
  • In April of 2015, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put out a public health alert after more than 150 people within a two-week period were hospitalized after using synthetic cannabinoids.
  • In 2016, a powerful synthetic drug that was disguised and sold as a prescription painkiller caused six deaths and 22 overdoses in Sacramento County, in less than a week

Some of the adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones include:

  • heightened anxiety/agitation
  • violent paranoia
  • delusional behavior
  • hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts
  • violent/aggressive behavior
  • elevated blood pressure/heartbeat
  • chest pains
  • seizures
  • coma and even death